Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Eye Gaze Direction for the Bench Press

by Mark Rippetoe | February 12, 2019

bench press gaze

I'm going to make an obvious observation here: when you bench press, you're laying on your back, so looking up is kind of a foregone conclusion. However, the way in which you look up has an incredibly important bearing of your execution of the movement pattern. Stare at the ceiling.

I mean stare at the ceiling directly over your eyeballs with an icy unblinking madness, like the ceiling owes you a lot of money, like you're really pissed off at the ceiling. Like the ceiling has insulted your mom. Doing so improves the accuracy of your bar path in what is actually the most bar-path-dependent lift in the program – and the only lift that can actually kill you, so it's important.

Your stare at the ceiling creates a sight picture of the ceiling, which becomes the reference for the bar's position at lockout. The bench is the only lift where you get to look at the bar's lockout position; everything else locks out where you can't see it, and in this particular instance looking at it does not compromise your position relative to the bar since it is 90 degrees to your spine. Rather, it enables you to drive through the same bar path to the same lockout position over your face every time.

Touching your chest at the same place is pretty easy. You can feel where the bar touches and position it correctly for your particular amount of arch against the bench. Then, your icy stare against the ceiling gives you a position to drive the bar to, every time, at the same place in the sight picture. You identify this position by memorizing the landmarks on the ceiling, which become a very precise locator for the lockout position of the bar.

And then you'll discover that if you touch the correct point on your chest, with the correct amount of arch, your elbows will be positioned correctly at the bottom. And if the bar is in the correct position at lockout – directly vertical to your shoulder joints – you can identify this bar position against the ceiling. And if you're correct on the chest and correct at lockout, the bar path sorts itself out quite quickly without any micromanagement. It just goes from the right place to the right place pretty much all by itself. This takes almost no practice because it is a very natural way to move things.

Baseball, horseshoes, darts – all sports with a thrown implement utilize this phenomenon. Look at where you want it to go, throw it, and it goes there, more or less. Racquet sports, golf, and the batting half of baseball – where you try to hit the ball – use a version of the same thing: you watch the ball (or where the ball just came from) to hit it. At no time would you watch the ball as you throw it or the bat as you swing it. For the same reason, it's stupid to watch the bar as you bench.

Stare the bar into place on the ceiling. Of course, this means you shouldn't bench outside. Outside is for other things, ceilings are for benching.

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